x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Drogba and Ribery on redemption path to Champions League glory

Both players will be keen to make up for missing out from last time around when Chelsea ended as runners-up in 2008 and Bayern Munich in 2010. Audio interviews

Chelsea's Didier Drogba had to leave the field in extra time.
Chelsea's Didier Drogba had to leave the field in extra time.

To miss a major final because of a ban can leave a deep ache on a professional footballer.

Potential compensations that might be offered to the seven players banned from Saturday's Champions League showdown between Bayern Munich and Chelsea are few, but Luis Gustavo, Holger Badstuber, David Alaba, John Terry, Ramires, Raul Meireles and Branislav Ivanovic could take some solace from history.

Those who miss out on big showpieces tend to work long and hard to ensure they have another chance.

Famously, AC Milan's Alessandro Costacurta suffered suspensions from both the 1994 Champions League final and, for Italy, the final of the World Cup in the same year.

He was 28 then but, remarkably, would pick up two more European Cup winners medals, the first nine years after he was confined to the stands, the last as a squad member at the age of 41.

Pavel Nedved, banned from the 2003 final for Juventus, motored on for years and years into his later 30s, though never quenched the thirst for 90 minutes on club football's most prestigious stage.

What drives Didier Drogba to maintain his competitive fire well into his 35th year, to discover in himself these last few months a Peter Pan elixir, to defy what are supposed to be the effects of age? Perhaps it is a sense of unfinished business.

Drogba missed out of the climax of a Champions League, and in painful, rather shameful circumstances.

He was not banned from the start of Chelsea's 2008 Moscow European Cup final against Manchester United, but red-carded during it, so that he watched the conclusion from the dressing-room.

Drogba had been sent off in extra-time and was thus prevented from offering his expertise in the subsequent penalty shoot-out that Chelsea lost. He had let his side down.

Bayern's Franck Ribery did no service to his colleagues in 2010, either.

His rash, brutal tackle on Lyon's Lisandro Lopez in the Champions League semi-final that year earned a red card and a stiff suspension, meaning he was not in Madrid for the defeat against Inter Milan in the final. Bayern missed Ribery, and his absence bred in him a yearning for redemption.

"It will be extra satisfaction for me this time, after missing out before," he told the German magazine Kicker.

Ribery has a hotheaded streak. During the first leg of this season's semi-final against Real Madrid, he is reported to have landed a blow against his own colleague, Arjen Robben, in the dressing-room after an argument about who should take a free kick.

He would not be the first colleague Robben has irritated, but - as Bayern said, without explaining the nature of the row - he apologised to all his teammates afterwards.

Semi-finals heighten tensions, as Drogba would acknowledge. Back in 2009, the Ivorian lost his cool vividly as he harangued the referee after the end of a semi-final won on away goals by Barcelona. It earned him a four-match Uefa ban.

Drogba has a notoriety in this competition. No player in Champions League history has received more red cards in it.

Few Chelsea players have more often expressed, in a red mist, the club's accumulated frustrations with the tournament, with all their several semi-final exits, the so-near-yet-so-far memory of Moscow.

Were Drogba not in such domineering form, not so clearly the standout potential match winner for Chelsea, his temperament might be held against him when the final selection of the XI is made.

But there can be no dilemmas of that sort from Roberto Di Matteo, Chelsea's interim manager.

Drogba has been so plainly the figurehead of his club's unlikely march to Munich that nobody will be making a case for picking Fernando Torres, the striker who cost £50 million (Dh293m), ahead of him, although Torres may get to line up alongside.

A Drogba goal helped Chelsea win the FA Cup; a Drogba goal set them on their way to the remarkable victory over Barcelona in the European semi-finals; in the quarter-finals, Drogba scored in the stirring comeback that put Chelsea through at the expense of Napoli, who had held a two-goal lead over the London club.

And this was supposed to be his farewell season, when he faded out, a representative of the so-called Chelsea "Old Guard".

Logically enough, Chelsea have been planning a future, post-Drogba, a new era in which Torres became the totemic centre-forward, the emblem of a new style, a less muscular approach to games.

But the evidence of the last month or so - and for most of Torres's troubled 15 months since Chelsea paid the mammoth fee for him - is that this is not a squad ready to make that evolution.

Colleagues find it hard to credit that Drogba is 34.

"His body is a machine," said Frank Lampard. "He has lost none of his pace, or his finishing instincts. There is no one else with the bulldozer thing he has, and with the sublime touch."

It may be that Drogba's Indian summer is to be expected. He was a late starter in senior football, a comparative rarity in that he drifted under the radar of scouts until his 20s, playing and striving in lower leagues in France.

By the time he was 24, he was a name only in provincial, lower-tier French football.

At 19, by contrast, Torres was already captain of Atletico Madrid. Although Torres is only 28, the two men have accumulated more or less the same volume of top-flight wear and tear. Ribery, outstanding in Bayern's progress to the final, is another with a background that is not typical among elite players.

He was not hot-housed through youth academies - he was let go by Lille in his native France - and, like Drogba, was into his 20s before he played his first top-division match as a professional, for Metz.

He did a stint in Turkey before one of France's heavyweight clubs, Marseille, recruited him.

He did not have a conventional career path.

Nor did Drogba, who spent his childhood moving between Ivory Coast and France.

Sometimes, in players like Drogba and Ribery, the dividends of learning the game outside the scholarly atmosphere of a modern, professionalised youth structure can be perceived.

These are two footballers with distinct styles, Drogba's highly physical, Robery's feathery, but both with something of the street in them, and both with a urge to make up for past absences.

 

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